- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

The rest of the world has begun, painfully slowly, to cooperate in the rebuilding of Iraq:

The Japanese have just pledged a $1.5 billion down on the $5 billion aid package formally announced at last week’s international conference in Madrid.

Kuwait already had announced that it will make a “generous” contribution to Iraq’s reconstruction. Its grant will be in addition to the billion or so Kuwait is already spending on humanitarian aid in Iraq.

But this was to be expected. The Kuwaitis know what it is to be tyrannized by Saddam Hussein — and to be freed by an U.S.-led coalition.

American allies like Britain and Spain are doing what they can — $439 million from the British next year, $307 million from the Spanish over the next four years. And the World Bank stands ready to lend Iraq $3 billion to $5 billion over the next five years.

But the French and Germans still hesitate, giving little and that grudgingly. The days when another coalition of the willing liberated their countries, and then rebuilt them, are long since forgotten. The Marshall Plan? Ancient history.

It’s enough to bring back the first lesson of international relations: Never expect gratitude.

Instead of helping out, the French skipped last week’s conference; they’ll make their contribution to Iraq’s reconstruction as part of the European Union’s modest donation.

The Germans are poormouthing, too, claiming they can’t give more than the $224 million they’ve already pledged. But they do insist on collecting the $4.6 billion or so they lent Saddam’s regime for his palaces and missiles. How generous.

The French and Germans are acting like a couple of rich deacons in the congregation who’ll only throw a quarter in the collection plate because they don’t like who’s passing it. They would make Scrooge look all heart.

That the United Nations has passed a unanimous resolution urging countries to help rebuild Iraq doesn’t seem to matter to Old Europe. So much for how important U.N. resolutions are. They are considered binding by Berlin and Paris only when Washington fails to obtain an umpteenth one before dislodging a dictator.

The Russians are represented in Madrid, but they are there only to insist that any new, democratic Iraq repay the $3.4 billion they lent Saddam to buy MiGs and other Soviet-era weaponry. No wonder they are called Odious Debts.

Other, smaller countries all over the world are expected to come through. Which makes it all the sadder that the U.S. Congress is still divided over how to rebuild Iraq, with the Senate insisting that half the $20 billion approved for Iraq’s reconstruction be in the form of a loan rather than a grant. That vote came at an awkward time — just when this country was asking everybody else in the world to give freely and generously to the cause.

Some congressmen — indeed, a decisive majority of the House — understand the importance of getting help to Iraq, and of not attaching any strings to that help. Making the money a loan would only confirm all the anti-American propaganda floating around the Islamic world about the United States’ having waged this war only to profit by it. (Isn’t that Ted Kennedy’s line, too?) The president has said he will veto this Scrooge amendment if it’s tacked on to the Iraq aid bill, and he should.

The importance of rebuilding Iraq can scarcely be overestimated. The peace and security of that part of the world, and far beyond, depends on it as this war against terrorism unfolds in the years ahead.

Vic Snyder, a Democratic congressman from Arkansas, knows how it will look if U.S. aid is extended as a loan, not an outright grant. “If it’s done as a loan,” he says, “it will be perceived by the Iraqis as if we’re trying to worm them out of their oil money.”

And it won’t be just the Iraqis who will see it that way. Such a loan would be a $10 billion propaganda bonanza for U.S. enemies worldwide; we would look as rapacious as the French and Germans, as grasping as the Russians.

Congressmen like Vic Snyder understand that the sooner we rebuild Iraq and establish a freely elected government there, the sooner we can bring our troops home, and have an Arab ally instead of a resentful debtor.

Let it be noted that Mr. Snyder was the only member of Arkansas’ delegation in the House to oppose the war to unseat Saddam — a vote some of us would take serious issue with — yet he has taken the lead in arguing that the occupation must prove successful. Maybe that’s because the Honorable in front of Vic Snyder’s name is more than a title; it is a description.

On this issue, the honorable course is clear.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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